The state of California is home to nearly 500 community colleges that offer diverse educational programs and two-year degrees. Many of the community colleges in California also offer online courses, degrees, and certificates. After researching top community colleges in California, we found 30 of the best schools. Our methodology is listed below.
30 Best Community Colleges in California Methodology
We reviewed approximately 498 community colleges in California listed by the Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) College Navigator and reputable online sources, such as U.S. News and World Report. We narrowed our original pool of schools by applying two major criteria: strong graduation rates and affordability. Since most community colleges are deemed affordable, we focused on schools with the best graduation rates. Graduation rates, according to NCES College Navigator, reflect the percentage of full-time, first-time students who graduated within 150% of normal time to completion for their program. Also, we included only community colleges that were fully accredited.
Below are the resulting selections for our 30 best community colleges in California for 2020.
#30 – Foothill College
Los Altos Hills, California
Graduation Rate: 63%
Foothill College ranks as one of the best community colleges in California due to its exceptional graduation rate and comprehensive student services that assist students in their educational endeavors. Foothill’s main campus is located in Los Altos Hills and was founded in 1957. Today, the institution offers a total of 166 degrees and certificates, with the majority of them available both in the classroom and online. Foothill is dedicated to making college affordable and offers several financial aid and scholarship opportunities based on need and merit. In particular, the Foothill College Promise aid package provides full tuition and book coverage for two years for first-time college students that take a minimum of 12 credits per term.
#29 – De Anza College
Graduation Rate: 65%
Ranked as one of the best community colleges in California, De Anza College offers several online transfer and career training degrees for students at affordable tuition rates. The institution ranks at or near the top for preparing students to transfer to the top public and private universities and colleges in California including UC and CSU system institutions. In addition to transfer preparation, De Anza also offers several dozen applied associate degrees and certificates in fields like manufacturing technologies, sustainability, film and television production, accounting, and automotive technology to name a few. The institution offers several different forms of financial aid and scholarships, including the California Promise that covers two full years of tuition, books, and fees for first-time college students.
#28 – West Valley College
Graduation Rate: 36%
Ranked as one of the top community colleges in California, West Valley College offers several online degrees and certificates for students seeking to transfer to a four-year institution or go immediately into the workforce. The 143-acre campus is located in Saratogo, California and is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to confer associate degrees and certificates. West Valley offers a total of 27 transfer degrees that allow students to seamlessly transfer to four-year institutions or transition into a fulfilling career. West Valley offers several financial aid opportunities including the Viking Grant, which pays full tuition, fees, and books for up to two years when attending full-time (12 credits or more).
#27 – Porterville College
Graduation Rate: 24%
Researching how many community colleges in California, we identified the top schools based on graduation rate and affordability. Ranking #27 on our list, Porterville College offers dozens of online degree programs that prepare students to transfer or enter the workforce. Programs include early childhood education, accounting, information systems, sociology, political science, and many more. The institution provides comprehensive student services such as tutoring, career and academic counseling, financial aid, and enrichment activities free of charge. In addition to federal and state funding, first-time college students who attend full-time may qualify for the California College Promise Grant that pays full tuition, books, and fees for two years.
#26 – Moorpark College
Graduation Rate: 38%
Moorpark ranks as one of the top-ranked community colleges in California based on affordable tuition and student success rates. The two-year institution offers several distance degrees across a variety of majors that total 1,500 courses in 70 different disciplines. Students can attend the institution to obtain a transfer or workforce degree, as well as a short-term certificate. The college also offers job-training classes for working professionals. Moorpark College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to confer degrees and certificates to students who successfully complete their programs.
#25 – Oxnard College
Graduation Rate: 29%
Oxnard College ranks as one of the best community colleges in California that prepares students to transfer to a baccalaureate institution or find gainful employment. Oxnard provides students with 18 certificate programs, 17 associate degrees for transfer, and 37 applied associate degrees for employment in more than 60 disciplines. Many of the courses and degrees are available completely online to provide students with maximum flexibility and convenience. Some of the most popular degree programs include dental hygiene, fire technology, and computer science. In addition to highly trained and dedicated faculty, students also benefit from student services such as career and academic counseling, financial aid, athletics, and student organizations.
#24 – West Hills College
Graduation Rate: 36%
West Hills College Lemoore makes the list of our top community colleges in California based on its affordable tuition rates and student success rates. The institution offers transfer and workforce programs across a wide spectrum of majors and careers such as nursing, pre-law, English, computer science, business, and much more. In total, West Hills offers more than 60 individual degree programs. The diverse campus serves students from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages and is dedicated to helping students be successful in their academic and career endeavors. Like many other California institutions, West Hills College students are eligible for the California Community College Promise Grant where they receive two years of tuition, fees, and book costs covered at 100%.
#23 – West Hills College
Graduation Rate: 35%
When researching how many community colleges in California offer affordable tuition rates and several online programs, West Hills College at Coalinga meets the criteria and makes our list at #23. To gain admission, students need a high school diploma, GED, or high school principal recommendation. The institution accepts standardized test scores but does not require them for admission. West Hills Coalinga provides students with 70 distinct degree programs to fit their academic or career needs. Students can choose a degree that prepares them for a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution, or they may pursue an applied degree preparing them for a career.
#22 – Santa Barbara City College
Santa Barbara, California
Graduation Rate: 36%
When researching how many community colleges in California, potential students can get bogged down with the thousands of results. That’s why we have compiled a list of the 30 best community colleges in California based on tuition affordability and student success rates. Santa Barbara City College made the list, coming in at #22. The institution offers several degree and career pathways, which includes 25 degrees that can be completed entirely online. Featured online degrees include business communications, computer information systems, liberal arts and sciences, marketing, and health data analytics. In addition to its affordable tuition, local high school graduates that have not yet attended college may qualify for free tuition, books, and fees for up to two years full-time.
#21 – Cañada College
Redwood City, California
Graduation Rate: 34%
Cañada College ranks as one of the best community colleges in California, with several online courses that fulfill all general education course requirements for the majority of California’s state and private institutions. With more than 40 quality instructional programs, students are sure to find a degree that meets their academic and career needs. To be admitted to the institution, students must possess a high school diploma, GED, or have passed the California High School Equivalency exam. In addition to extremely affordable tuition rates, the college offers several financial aid and scholarship opportunities based on need or merit that take just minutes to apply.
#20 – Allan Hancock College
Santa Maria, California
Graduation Rate: 33%
Allan Hancock College ranks #20 on our list of best community colleges in California. The institution provides transfer and workforce degrees in more than 100 areas of study, many of which are offered online. Allan Hancock is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to confer degrees on those who successfully complete all coursework. In addition to institutional accreditation, many of the college’s programs are accredited by specific academic and workforce accrediting agencies. The institution offers several financial aid programs and scholarships such as Cal Grants, the Middle Class Scholarship, Golden State Teacher Grant Program, and many more.
#19 – Mt. San Antonio College
Graduation Rate: 37%
Mt. San Antonio College ranks as one of the top community colleges in California, buttressed by its strong graduation rate and affordable tuition rates. Mt. SAC provides students with more than 260 degree and certificate programs, 25 support programs, and more than 50 student clubs and athletic programs. The institution has a long-standing history in California, serving over 20 local communities while educating more than 1.2 million people. With tuition costs set at just $46 per unit along with robust financial aid funds, three out of four Mt. San Antonio College students receive financial aid and pay almost nothing to attend college.
#18 – Cuesta College
San Luis Obispo, California
Graduation Rate: 33%
We’ve researched how many community colleges in California combine strong student outcomes and affordable tuition and compiled it into the top 30 institutions in the state. At number 18, Cuesta College is located in the heart of San Luis Obispo County and boasts 74 degree programs and 62 certificate programs that include in-person and online courses. In addition, the institution offers a wide menu of student services to help students succeed in their educational goals and to provide personal enrichment. Financial aid includes 150 available scholarships that can be applied to in just one application as well as federal and state financial aid. Of note, the Cuesta is a participating institution in the California Promise Grant, which provides qualified students with two years of free tuition, fees, and books.
#17 – Santa Rosa Junior College
Santa Rosa, California
Graduation Rate: 37%
Ranking #17 on our list of best community colleges in California, Santa Rosa Junior College offers a wide range of academic majors designed to transfer to a four-year college or university or to enter into the workforce in a career with sustainable wages. The institution provides working students with the opportunity to earn a degree entirely online using its distance-learning platform, which allows students to pursue their education while maintaining other facets of their lives, such as family and work. The majority of students at Santa Rosa Junior College receive financial aid in the form of grants, loans, and work-study. In addition, the institution provides several scholarships funded by its foundation, including the SRJC for Free initiative that pays full tuition and books for students enrolled full-time and are California residents, regardless of need.
#16 – Lake Tahoe Community College
South Lake Tahoe, California
Graduation Rate: 28%
Lake Tahoe ranks as one of the top community colleges in California based on strong performance and student support. The institution offers several dozen majors and certificates for students seeking to transfer or enter the workforce. In addition, with its own dedicated virtual campus, the college specializes in helping distance degree students reach their academic goals. Moreover, Lake Tahoe has partnered with Sierra Nevada University, Brandman University, and Washington State University to offer competitively priced bachelor’s degrees in competitive majors such as business management, psychology, hospitality, and more. Financial aid is available for students who qualify and can range from grants, loans, and work-study options.
#15 – Orange Coast College
Costa Mesa, California
Graduation Rate: 41%
Orange Coast College ranks as a top community college in California designed to help students reach their personal and academic goals through rigorous coursework taught by highly trained faculty members. Orange Coast has over 50 academic programs and a strong student services division. With several programs and courses online, students are able to complete degrees without interrupting their other endeavors and commitments such as work and family. Similar to many other California Community Colleges, Orange Coast provides full tuition, fees, and funding for students who qualify. In addition, the institution has a robust financial aid office ready to assist students with the best way to finance their education.
#14 – College of the Redwoods
Graduation Rate: 24%
Located in scenic Eureka, California, College of the Redwoods offers students over 1,000 different classes leading to a degree or certificate. Admission to the institution requires a high school diploma or GED and does not require standardized testing. As an open-door institution, College of the Redwoods welcomes students of all ages and backgrounds. Students seeking financial aid and assistance have several options. In addition to federal and state aid, the college offers its College Access Program helping California residents earn a free two-year degree. Eligible students must be California residents and be a first-time college student to qualify for the grant.
#13 – Golden West College
Huntington Beach, California
Graduation Rate: 35%
Golden Coast College ranks #13 on our list of best community colleges in California, thanks to its excellent reputation in the region for helping students achieve their academic goals of transferring to a four-year institution or obtaining an applied workforce degree leading to gainful employment. Students can choose from majors in virtually any field or discipline such as business, automotive technology, nursing, and much more. Golden Coast is also a regional leader in distance education through its offerings of online classes and online student support services. Students can work towards their degree while maintaining their current obligations such as family and work.
#12 – Monterey Peninsula College
Graduation Rate: 30%
Monterey Peninsula College consistently ranks among the top community colleges in California thanks to its affordable tuition rates and quality academic programs. The college prides itself in offering a wide range of online degrees to busy students who prefer online learning or those who are unable to take on-campus classes. Students can complete online degrees in criminal justice, anthropology, business, early childhood education, psychology, and more. These degrees can be used to seamlessly transfer to a four-year degree granting institution or enter the workforce. In addition to classes, the college has a strong online student services division where online students can receive academic tutoring, academic advising, and career counseling free of charge.
#11 – Pasadena City College
Graduation Rate: 35%
Since 1924, Pasadena City College has been a leading community college in California serving the needs of the San Gabriel Valley. The institution currently offers 124 associate degree programs and 88 certificate programs, making it one of the most robust colleges in the state. In addition, the college offers an abundance of financial aid resulting in over 60% of students having their tuition fully or partially covered. 54% of students attend part-time with many of them working towards their academic degree through online distance learning. The institution currently ranks #1 in California in degrees granted, transfer degrees, and degrees obtained by minorities.
#10 – Las Positas College
Graduation Rate: 38%
Located 40 miles outside of San Francisco, Las Positas College breaks into the top ten on our list of best community colleges in California. The college offers a robust assortment of degrees including 24 occupational associate degrees, 17 associate transfer degrees, and 44 certificate programs. As more students are beginning to prefer online learning, the college has responded by providing online classes that allow students to earn an associate’s degree completely online. Many of Las Positas’ students take their courses completely online, enabling them to keep their other commitments such as work and family. The institution offers several financial aid programs including the Pell and SEOG grants in addition to the California College Promise Grant Waiver Program that pays for two years worth of tuition, fees, and books.
#9 – Ohlone College
Graduation Rate: 44%
Ohlone ranks #9 on our list of best community colleges in California due to its strong graduate rate and affordable tuition. The institution prides itself on its diverse student body, with students from over 40 countries seeking to earn one of Ohlone’s 195 degrees or certificates. Students can earn an associate’s degree entirely online or choose to take a mixture of classes, including seated and hybrid. As an open door community college, admission requires students to possess a high school diploma or a GED and does not require students take standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT but will accept scores as placement into classes.
#8 – College of the Siskiyous
Graduation Rate: 24%
College of the Siskiyous ranks as one of the top community colleges in California with an assortment of associate degrees in virtually any career field or bachelor’s degree major. The majority of students at the institution receive financial aid with many of them paying little or nothing towards their tuition, books, and fees. Because of the low tuition costs, federal and state financial aid programs generally cover the majority of the costs to attend. Students are able to take distance learning classes using Canvas, the college’s online learning platform, to earn an associate’s degree designed to transfer to a four-year institution.
#7 – MiraCosta College
Graduation Rate: 30%
MiraCosta College ranks #7 on our top community colleges in California. The institution is a statewide leader in online education and offers over 600 online and hybrid classes that allow students to work towards a degree without interrupting their other commitments. In addition to the online classes, the institution provides several support mechanisms including an online tutoring center, writing center, library support center, and more. In addition, students are able to receive academic and career counseling online. Students can apply online to the college using the application portal. Admission requirements include a high school diploma or a GED. No standardized testing is required.
#6 – Irvine Valley College
Graduation Rate: 46%
Consistently one of the best community colleges in California, Irvine Valley College first opened as a satellite campus before becoming a stand-alone institution in 1985. Currently, the institution offers 39 associate in arts degrees, 21 associate in science degrees, 17 associate in arts transfer, and 7 associate in science transfer degrees designed to parlay into a four-year degree at a college or university or prepare the graduate for a sustainable career. Irvine Valley offers several hundred online and hybrid courses for student unable to attend seated classes. Students earn the same degree as their on-campus peers and the transcript says nothing about online classes.
#5 – Fullerton College
Graduation Rate: 31%
Fullerton College ranks #5 on our list of best community colleges in California thanks to a robust offering of degrees, online student support, and generous financial aid packages. The institution currently has 122 associate degrees designed to transfer or move immediately into the workforce. In addition, the college has an entire Distance Education Department to provide support for students taking online or hybrid courses. Fullerton offers several financial aid grants such as the California College Promise Grant, Cal Grant, Student Success Completion Grant, Pell Grant, and much more. The college’s foundation also provided funding through several merit- and need-based scholarships.
#4 – Cypress College
Graduation Rate: 30%
Cypress College consistently ranks as one of the top community colleges in California and ranks #4 on our list. Cypress offers 56 university transfer majors, 73 degree programs, and 176 certificates to ensure students find the right credential to meet their personal and academic needs. In addition, Cypress is one of the few California Community Colleges to offer bachelor degrees in select majors. Cypress is one of the leading institutions that feed transfer students to California four-year universities. To gain admission to Cypress College, students must complete an admission application and have a GED or high school diploma from an accredited high school.
#3 – Napa Valley College
Graduation Rate: 33%
Ranking #3 on our list of top community colleges in California, Napa Valley College currently offers over 100 online courses designed to transfer to a four-year university or college or to prepare students for a career. Napa Valley has full accreditation from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Napa Valley offers both state and federal financial aid for students who qualify. In addition, the institution provides students with merit- and need-based funds. Admission is based on students having a high school diploma or GED.
#2 – Copper Mountain Community College
Joshua Tree, California
Graduation Rate: 23%
Copper Mountain Community College ranks as one of the best community colleges in California based on its strong student support services and commitment to making college affordable. The majority of students at Copper Mountain receive financial aid with little or no money required out-of-pocket. In addition, the college is one of the California institutions that offer the California College Promise Grant, which gives students two years’ worth of tuition, books, and fees when they maintain full-time status and an acceptable GPA. Students can choose from a wide range of two-year transfer degrees or workforce degrees, depending on their academic goals.
#1 – Taft College
Graduation Rate: 37%
Ranking #1 in community colleges in California, Taft College provides students with options of 43 associate degrees and 30 certificate programs such as criminal justice, dental hygiene, engineering, computer science, and more. The institution boasts an excellent graduation and transfer rate, along with low tuition costs, making it a great value. Taft is adding distance courses and degrees to its catalog every year and continues to integrate the latest in distance learning technology while training faculty to help online learners achieve their goals. With generous financial aid and scholarships available, the majority of Taft College students pay little or nothing at all towards their tuition, fees, and books.
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of degrees do community colleges in California offer?
Community colleges in California offer a variety of degrees with two main purposes: transfer to a baccalaureate institution to obtain a bachelor’s degree, or preparation to move directly into the workforce. In addition, community colleges also offer short certificate programs that are mainly workforce credentials used to obtain immediate employment or a promotion.
Community college degrees are known as associate degrees and may also be called two-year degrees. Associate degrees designed to transfer to four-year colleges or universities are broadly based in the arts or sciences and referred to as associate of arts or associate of science. A student intending on majoring in a non-science degree would select the associate of arts, while a science or math-based major would select the associate of science. These degrees are built to satisfy the lower division requirements for a college or university so the student can matriculate to the four-year institution as a junior. Most community colleges also offer associate of arts and science degrees for specific majors. For example, a student intending on earning a bachelor’s degree in biology would pursue an associate in science in biology. These degrees make transferring to the baccalaureate institution even more seamless.
The other type of associate degree offered are workforce degrees often called applied associate degrees. These degrees are designed to prepare students for a specific career. Associate of applied science degrees in nursing, computer programming, automotive technology, and criminal justice are among the most popular.
How long does it take to earn a degree at a community college in California?
Community colleges offer a great degree of flexibility when it comes to completing a degree or certificate. While they are commonly referred to as, “two-year degrees” the vast majority of students do not complete them within this time frame. Nationally, the average age of a community college students is 29, with over two-thirds choosing part-time study. Unlike residential four-year institutions, community college students are older and most work at least part-time, with most holding down full-time jobs while trying to take classes. With more non-academic responsibilities, most students progress at a much slower pace. In fact, it is not uncommon for community college students to take 3-5 years to complete an associate’s degree.
Associate degrees are anywhere from 60-90 credits, depending on whether the institution uses a quarter or semester system. Students taking a minimum full-time course load of 12 credits per term would complete a 90-credit degree in 7.5 semesters, which equates to 2.5 years including summer semesters. So as you can see, it is not possible for minimum full-time students to complete in two years. At some point, they would have to take more than 12 credits per term.
Community college administrators in California are understanding of the added challenges their students face and generally give students as long as they need to complete their degrees.
What are the admission requirements for community colleges in California?
The mission of every California community college is to provide affordable education to those seeking to improve their social standing through education and job training. As such, community colleges are known as open-door institutions with very achievable admission standards that most people can meet.
The main criteria used for community college admission is a high school diploma, GED, or having finished a high school completion program. In addition, anyone 18 or older may enroll in community college classes, but may take courses only towards a high school equivalency (GED) or adult high school diploma. Once the student achieves the GED or adult high school diploma, he or she may apply as a “regular” college student and begin taking courses towards a degree or certificate.
Currently enrolled high school students in grades 9-12 can also gain admission to take community college courses through a dual enrollment program. These programs allow current high school students to take classes at the community college that earn both high school and college credit. Tuition costs are generally waived, which makes dual enrollment programs very popular. Students wanting to enroll in a dual enrollment program typically have to test at the college level by completing the ACT, SAT, or the college’s own assessment test.
How do I afford attending a community college in California?
Community college in California is arguably the most affordable in the nation due to $46 cost per unit/credit, which is the lowest in the country. For California residents, this means taking a 12-credit course load (full-time) would cost just $552 in tuition. In addition, students would have to pay fees, books, and supplies.
In addition to low-cost tuition, California has some of the most aggressive financial aid programs in the country. The most popular is the California College Promise Grant, which waives tuition for first-time college students who demonstrate financial need and are state residents. To qualify, students must complete the FAFSA or California Dream Act Aid Application. Those who qualify have their full tuition covered for the year. Over one million students take advantage of the opportunity per year. In addition, many local colleges have agreed to cover student fees and textbooks for those who have the grant, which means they attend college without having to pay tuition, fees, and books. For students who do not qualify for the California College Promise Grant, completing the FAFSA or California Dream Act Aid Application opens them up to several financial aid grants and loans. Moreover, several institutions have grants similar to the Promise Grant for those who don’t qualify.
How much can I earn with a degree from a community college in California?
With the rising cost of a four-year degree, many students are matriculating to California community colleges to earn degrees that either transfer or prepare them for a career. For many Californians, this turns out to be a wise investment. According to data collected by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wages for occupations requiring an associate’s degree is $53,000 compared to that of $36,100 for workers with high school level occupations. And when looking at salary data for specific community college degrees, you can see the return on investment increases as graduates continue in their occupational roles. For example, the median salary for individuals two years before earning an associate degree in dental hygiene was $18,210. Two years after earning the degree the median salary jumped to $57,171 and $65,452 within five years after earning the degree. Similarly, pre- and post-nursing salary accretion were even more impressive, coming in at $23,459, $75775, and $86,592 respectively.
Other profitable community college degrees include computer infrastructure and support, computer programming, business, marketing, humanities, and social sciences. In all of these examples, salaries double and in some cases triple or quadruple when comparing pre- and post-degree career data. In short, the data is definitive that community college degrees pay large dividends for graduates from California community colleges.
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